Editors’ note: Maryville College senior Kevin Wheatley has chosen a novel approach for his senior thesis. A player in high school, Wheatley decided to go out for the football team at Maryville his last year at the school and record his experiences of “an average college student trying to make the team.” Blount Today will publish excerpts from Wheatley’s notes throughout the season. The following is Wheatley’s first installment at the beginning of fall practice.
By Kevin Wheatley
Thursday finally rolled around. The first official day of my project began without much of a hitch, except for the fact that the game cleats I was supposed to have didn’t turn up while I was unpacking. With just a few hours before equipment checkouts, I thought I had plenty of time to make a quick trip to the mall and pick up a pair of black Reeboks.
Only problem was they were all out. According to the shoe salesman at Hibbett Sports, I wasn’t the only Maryville College player who forgot to buy a pair.
So, after a mad dash to Dick’s Sporting Goods in Knoxville and an $80 hit to my wallet, I was finally ready to go. The schedule called for equipment pickups in the afternoon, a team meeting later that night, conditioning tests on Friday and the first team practice on Saturday without pads.
And so it began.
After getting my first set of pads in a little over four years and eating dinner, it was time for the team meeting. After listening to Sharon Wood, the head trainer, talk about the importance of hydration, it was time for head coach Tony Ierulli to speak.
“We have a target on our backs gentlemen,” he said in front an auditorium packed with over 100 players. “We’re ranked third in the conference’s preseason poll, and that’s the highest we’ve been ranked since we’ve joined the USA South. We need to go out there and show them this is where we belong.”
Following his speech, a highlight film of the previous season was played for the team and then it was time for the players to stand up and introduce themselves.
“Great,” I thought. “What the (heck) am I going to say?”
My time got shorter and shorter as players ahead of me gave their names, hometown, high school played for and position. And then it was my turn.
“My name is Kevin Wheatley, I’m from Frankfort, Ky., I went to Lexington Catholic High School and I’m going to try to play quarterback.”
Laughter roared from the returning players who were in on the joke. Even coach Ierulli cracked a smile and joined in with a long laugh.
But all jokes were over during my conditioning test, which consisted of 16 timed 110-yard runs (110s for short). Each position group had a certain time to make, and the quarterbacks, kickers, and fullbacks had 18 seconds to run 110 yards.
I made my first two or three in about 17 seconds, and I thought to myself, “Man, this isn’t so bad. I think I might be able to do this.”
Oh, how wrong I was.
Right after the whistle for our fourth 110, I felt like I was dragging 50-pound weights where my feet used to be and a tingling shoot up my right leg. “I’m going to eat it in front of the whole team,” I immediately thought.
It was one of those moments where time slows down. After the first few steps, I knew a fall was inevitable. A couple of options ran through my mind at that time. I could either: a) Try to catch myself and probably break both wrists in the process, or b) Attempt a headfirst baseball slide, for show of course.
I went with the latter option and needless to say the landing wasn’t as graceful as I thought it would be. But I still got up and finished. It felt like my lungs were on fire and muscles in my legs that I didn’t even know existed were torn, but I crossed the line.
After recuperating from the day before, I felt kind of ready for our first practice. I figured the day before was a bad display of my athleticism, but I knew it couldn’t get much worse.
A few days of practice have come and gone, and I am too sore to type. The muscles in my fingers feel like they’re pulling every muscle in my body in unison, but as cliché as it sounds, I’m glad to be out there and making myself not only a better writer, but a better team player.